Growing up in a nominal Christian home, I knew some doctrine in my formative years. We were heavy in reliance upon the teaching of the Roman Catholic and Methodist churches for what my parents and siblings knew about anything of the Christian faith. For this reason, we remained nominal Christians.
No one outside our family was particularly interested in our knowledge of Christianity, let alone whether any of us were saved or not. That changed when we met the Baptists. These folks were all about salvation. When I met the Presbyterians, who taught me about God’s providence, I resigned any grudge I may have had against any Christians in my past, specifically for not teaching me more doctrinal truth. Providence taught me that God was sovereign, in His unveiling of the Christian faith to me.
There was one doctrine I encountered occasionally, but then, only with shadowy allusions toward illumination. It was elusive. From time to time, I would add a word to my Christian jargon, but this doctrine was one I did not know that I did not know. The dawn of understanding arrived when I became a student of the Puritans. They used this theological term with such frequency that I was forced to learn what they kept referring to when they wrote about: regeneration.
Most Christians do not reveal to others what they know and/or believe about the faith. Preachers and teachers must expose themselves a bit more to the scrutiny of others. Christians who venture into the written word are even more subject to audit. It is one thing for an inspector to prove, “you said,” but it is much easier for him to say, “Look here, you wrote this…”
The Great Commission is the church speaking what it knows about God, Christ, and salvation to the world (Mt 28:19–20). We better know what we are talking about if we claim to be ambassadors for Christ (2 Cor 5:20). Getting one’s doctrine right begins with one actually getting the doctrine!
The Puritan pastors were big on visiting their parishioners in their homes, at least once per year, to do a spiritual assessment on what their people knew about the faith. Too many pastors, today, are too busy building corporations, to actually care about souls. You cannot blame them. They are under pressure from the corporate board of directors to meet statistical expectations. The people in the plush chairs want a good show every Sunday, and they are the ones who pay the ticket for the show to go on. In these situations, people may be saved, but often with a deficiency in doctrinal understanding.
The irony for me was to be saved without knowing how I was saved. Do not get me wrong. I had some vital information, some wrong information, and some crucial, missing information. This missing information, I would like to bring to your attention. Why do I feel this is important? I meet with many Christians, who struggle with wrong information, because they have missing information. My objective is to provide some missing information, so the believer in Jesus can disregard the wrong information. The missing information here is called: regeneration.
Regeneration is the work of the Holy Spirit (Jn 3:1–8; Eph 2:5; Col 2:13; 1 Pet 1:3). The Spirit is like the wind, which goes where it wills. You sometimes know it is there because of its impact on other things. The same is true for the Holy Spirit, who impacts people, and you know He is there.
To regenerate something is to bring it the experience of new life (Rom 6:14; 2 Cor 5:17). Years ago, the city of Detroit adopted the French word, “Renaissance.” It carries a similar meaning. The city was dying, and it needed new life. Christians talk about, “Resurrection.” It, too, is a word with a similar meaning to regeneration. Resurrection means to bring a body back to life from the dead (Jn 11; 1 Cor 15). So, we learn from these terms that regeneration is in the category of words, meaning to revitalize or return life to something. To what exactly does regeneration give life?
Regeneration is the life-giving Spirit of God bringing new life to the dead soul of a man (Jn 6:63; Eph 2:1). Like the wind going where is wants, so God’s Spirit gives life to whom He wills to regenerate (Acts 2:38; Acts 10:44–45). All three members of the triune Godhead participate, albeit in different ways. God the Father has chosen all the people who will be regenerated (Eph 1:4–5; 2 Thess 2:13). He did so from before the foundation of the world (Rev 13:8; 17:8).
By this process of the Father choosing some of humanity, this select group carries the name: “elect (2 Tim 2:10)” or “chosen (1 Pet 2:9).” Jesus Christ died on the Cross to redeem God’s chosen people (Mt 1:21; Rom 5:8; Eph 1:7; 2 Pet 1:18–19). It is this same chosen group who receives the work of the Holy Spirit regenerating their souls (Acts 13:48). It will be the same group of elect ones, who will be bodily resurrected from the dead, unto eternal life, on the last day (Jn 5:28–29).
Clearly, by implication, there is a much larger group who is not elect, remain unredeemed, and who will never receive regeneration from the Spirit (Jn 10:26; Rom 8:9; 1 Cor 3:23). These were the things missing from my understanding of God and salvation.
Most Christians, today, are erroneously taught that they play a key role in initiating their own salvation. They are told they performed a crucial work to determine their salvation. This work was to choose Christ or decide to follow Jesus. This is the essence of the wrong information alluded to above. Unfortunately, when it is taught, it sadly enters into the preaching of others.
It is a shock to learn the truth about salvation after you have spent years incorrectly learning salvation. There is much denial, then frustration, and even a bit of anger because you believed an error for so long. If that is you, today, please do not lament. God may have you reading this out of pure grace. Maybe, today, you are receiving the missing information He foreordained to utterly delight you moving forward into the future. Please do not dwell on the past, nor lament those who should have known better in their teaching positions in the church.
Regeneration is a theological term. At this point, I would like to look at a few terms, hopefully, more familiar to you because they are biblical terms. In the Bible, regeneration is called: 1) born again; 2) born of God; 3) born of the Spirit; 4) new life; 5) baptism of the Spirit; 6) made us alive; 7) renewal of your mind; 8) given a heart of flesh. These are all ways the Bible describes regeneration.
The action itself is God’s Spirit bringing life to the soul. He comes in to live, permanently (Heb 13:5). The life we speak of is actually the life of the Spirit of God. Imagine the lighting of a candle. The catalyst brings the fire to the candle, and the flame is lit and continues to burn. Regeneration is the first point of connection between the fire and the candle. God made every human being (candle), and He sends His Spirit to certain candles to light them with the Light of Life (Jn 8:12; 9:5).
The natural question for most people revolves around the idea of God’s choosing some and not others (Rom 9:13, 22–23). This is a mystery. It has not been revealed to us, and so we are wise not to probe, nor to criticize the Creator for the way He has decreed the beginning and the end of all things (Rom 11:36).
The Holy Spirit, in regeneration, is the ongoing work of the triune God in the salvation of His people. The Spirit starts the Christian’s life, and He continues to sustain it through His permanent, indwelling presence and power (Gal 2:20; 1 Jn 4:4).
The difference between the believer and the unbeliever is the Holy Spirit. The presence of the Spirit in the soul of a person makes her spiritual (1 Cor 2:15). If the Spirit is absent, regeneration has not occurred. The Spirit cannot be manipulated by the will of man. God chooses you; you do not choose Him (Jn 1:12–13; 15:16; Rom 9:15, 18; 2 Thess 2:13). Why?
The spiritual status of the unregenerate is, “dead (Eph 2:1).” The body is animated, but the soul is dead. This means there is no heart for God (Jn 5:42). The mind of the unregenerate is set on the things of this world (Jn 3:19), not the things of heaven (Col 3:2). A person must receive someone from heaven, in order to set his mind on the things of God. God the Father and God the Son sent God the Holy Spirit to be that someone (Jn 14:17, 26; 15:26).
If the soul is comprised of the mind and heart, then we must look there for the life of God. This observation is quite simple. From the heart, the mouth speaks what is in a man. What he understands in his mind will be communicated, too. If the heart and the mind belong to Christ, it is apparent (Jn 8:47; 1 Cor 2:16; 3:23).
Paul wrote about God beginning a good work in believers (Phil 1:6), and He promises to bring it to completion. Regeneration is the beginning of a number of other actions. The Holy Spirit, at the point of indwelling a soul, will convert the unbeliever into a believer. She will say, “I was blind, but now I see.”
Repentance is observed because where there was no prior conviction of sin. There is now conviction as a result of the Spirit’s presence. Faith is observed where there was no faith before. Faith is gift of God (Phil 1:29; 2 Pet 1:1). It comes with the Spirit, who is the giver of the gift of faith (Eph 2:8–9). Faith is produced as a fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22).
The new believer is informed of his new standing before God. The Spirit teaches him that he is “not guilty” before the Judge (Rom 3:26). This is justification. The Spirit has spiritually sprinkled blood on the soul, in the same way the high priest would sprinkle blood on the mercy seat in the holiest place in the Temple at Jerusalem (Heb 12:24; 1 Pet 1:2). As a result, we have communion with God through the Spirit.
The other beginning brought by the Spirit is the recognition of adoption into the family of God (Eph 1:4–5; Rom 8:15, 23). It is important not to confuse being born again with adoption. They are two works of the Holy Spirit, who is called, “the Spirit of adoption.” They serve as important metaphors, closely related, and performed by the Spirit. Being born is a one-time event, while adoption is an ongoing legal status.
The child, spiritually born of God, has the ongoing responsibility of a royal child. Adoption brings him into the family of the King. The Holy Spirit is entrusted with the work of preparing the saved soul for entry into the presence of Almighty God. This process of preparation is a called, “sanctification.” The word itself means to make one holy. The regenerate soul is set apart by having the holy presence of God in her, by the Spirit.
So, we have learned of this new beginning, fully the work of God’s Spirit. Regeneration is an initial experience with eternal implications. It is the commencement of many other functions all performed by the Holy Spirit. The baptism of the Spirit starts a new life, with God as the center, and with the Spirit, as the power for the regenerate to do righteousness.
In conclusion, every spring we are reminded by nature of this new birth. God has designed the seasons for us to see and to know how these spiritual realities work. New life is a product of the Vine, who is Christ (Jn 15). The life of the Vine is the Spirit flowing into the regenerate, like sap flows into a branch. A man made new is observable. He is changed from death to life. His body and soul (heart and mind) are now servants of the Lord God Almighty (Eph 6:6). His thoughts are of Christ, along with his affections for the Holy One.
Do you have this life in you? Then, rejoice. God has chosen to enter your soul to begin a new thing. You are a new creation, and His promise to perfect you on the day of Christ Jesus is valid. You have the token of His presence (2 Cor 5:5). You are the fruit of His labors, and in you is the seed of many of your kind. The Spirit and the Word have made their abode in you. The day that happened is your spiritual birthday, the day of your regeneration, and the whole family of God celebrates it with you.
Spokane Valley, Washington
April 13, 2021